Silver Linings of 2020

Guess who’s (finally, over a week in) back blogging for 2021?! Now, if you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen my New Year’s Eve post. In that caption I talked a little bit about the bright spots and silver linings for me in the mess that was 2020, so I thought I’d  discuss those silver linings in a blog post here too. Don’t get it twisted, this post isn’t me ignoring the fact that 2020 was hell with an extra sprinkle of awful for the majority of the world and the majority of the year.  This is just more of a personal post to hopefully change things up and stop me being in that mindset of “if things are terrible now, they will always be terrible”, reminding myself there is always light in the darkness. To quote Albus Dumbledore: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light”. So I guess this is me turning on the light when it comes to my view of 2020.

Made It Into National News & Radio

Let’s start with (I think) the most exciting silver lining. I made it into the national news AND radio! Firstly, I was the lead quote and photo on a BBC Business News article where I discussed my struggles finding employment as a disabled person in the midst of the pandemic . Then I was LIVE on BBC Radio 4 speaking about the positive impact that a fully accessible rail system would have on me, and specifically on my ability to find  employment. As I said, these opportunities were really exciting and I feel like these are opportunities I wouldn’t have had the experiences or time to take if I had not made the move to Birmingham and been in lockdown with no reasons to say no to these opportunities. One thing I have taken from this is that I should just take such opportunities because what’s the harm in saying yes?

Moved Into My Own Place

As I eluded to above, I also moved into my own place that was not student accommodation. I actually wrote a blog post of this process detailing my experience of house hunting whilst disabled and the things I had to consider too. Admittedly, making the big step mid pandemic and leaving myself locked down mostly alone in a city I didn’t  really know was not my best idea. But living with my parents throughout lockdown 1 really solidified the fact that I needed my own space, plus I just started thinking “If I don’t make the move now then when will I?”. I would have just kept making excuses to stay where I was.

Now Live In A City I Adore

I now live in Birmingham, a city I love. It feels like home. I feel comfortable here. I didn’t even feel this comfortable in London, which  is weird considering I lived there for 4 years compared to having lived in Birmingham for “only” a year whilst completing my Masters (more on that in a minute). Obviously given the current situation, I have not seen anywhere near as much of the city as I would have liked since I made the big move. But I have plenty of Birmingham content for you to check out whilst we’re in lockdown, and I’m excited to get exploring again when it’s safer.

Masters Degree

Now about that degree. Yup, I now have a first-class MSc degree (aka Distinction) in Cognitive Neuroscience from Aston University.  I actually wrote a whole blog post on my experience as a disabled student completing this Masters degree. I’m not gonna sit here and say it was easy, because it wasn’t, even before the pandemic kicked off. Add to that universities closing, learning becoming remote and then having my exams changed (with my practical exams being dropped completely and all exams going online) PLUS completing my dissertation online with no in person access to my supervisor for feedback. With all of that going on, plus my personal situation with COVID as a high risk person with shielding family, completing my Masters was DIFFICULT. And I’m not saying that as a ‘woe is me’ moment or because I want your pity. I’m just acknowledging it for the difficult situation was and acknowledging the fact that I. DID. IT. and damn that needs celebrating.

Solidified Friendships

This whole situation has helped to form better friendships and become closer to certain people than I would have been without the lockdown and my move. Who am I kidding, this entire section is just a big shoutout to Lizzie, so all hail Queen Lizzie, saviour of my sanity. Lizzie and her two university flatmates were my support bubble when I first moved to Birmingham as someone who lived alone (so they were the only people I was allowed to see) and that really solidified our friendship. Obviously I adore her but I don’t know if we’d have spent this much time together or be as close as we are if wasn’t for my move and the restrictions. So thanks 2020 for one of the loveliest girls I’ve ever met and a new best friend.

Grew The Blog

This was most likely because the lockdown gave me more time to write posts, promote them and engage with the blogging community, but the blog grew more than I could have ever thought possible in 2020! It was viewed in 31 more countries and had 4,649 views from 2,041 visitors compared to 1,464 views from 871 visitors in 2019. I also hit new daily and monthly blog view hits. I also did more blog post contributions and started collaborating with other bloggers on blog posts for my own site, such as my collaborations with Alex at The VI Critic, Hope from The Hope Chronicles, and Artie Carden. These collaborations also lead to friendships beyond blogging, which have kept me going throughout restrictions, such as my friendship with Alex (whose blog you should definitely go check out over at The VI Critic !).

So there are my silver linings for 2020. Do you have any silver linings from the past year that you’d like to share? Perhaps my fellow bloggers have already written their own version of this blog post that they’d like to share?

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Aston University: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Masters Edition

And we’re back again with the “University as a Disabled Student” chat, possibly for the last time. Back when I finished my undergraduate degree, I did a “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Surprising” blog post on accessibility at my undergraduate university (Brunel University London) which seemed to be really well received. With that in mind and given that I went to a different university for my (now completed) Masters degree, I thought I’d redo the post thinking about the accessibility at my Masters University. So here it is, the good, the bad and the ugly of accessibility at Aston University.

The Good

Well let’s start on a good foot. From my very first interaction with them as an applicant, the  Enabling Team seemed like they were actually committed to making a difference to the students they supported, rather than just paying lip service and sounding like they care (something I was used to from other institutions). I remember when I first saw my potential accommodation and was asked if I’d need any specific adaptations on top of what was already in the room. I said “oh, [insert adaptation here] would be good if you could try” and was told “you’re saying you need it, it will happen, no try about it”. That commitment to getting me what I requested was refreshing and not something I was used to hearing. The accommodation also had more accessibility adaptations than I’d previously seen or heard of at other universities, things such as ceiling hoists and a dog spend pen for assistance dogs. I know these are probably adaptations that should be in every university accommodation as standard, but again it was just refreshing to see them included in the accommodation at Aston. The other plus point about the Enabling Team is that, once my support package was in place, I was emailed a copy of the accommodations/support we had decided I would receive. This is not something I remember receiving a copy of at my previous university and, whilst it seems like a small thing, it really put my mind at rest knowing I had a copy of what I was entitled to, which I could refer to if I ever had issues with my disability being accommodated whilst I was studying at Aston. And I’m not the only one who’s had such good, personal service from the Enabling Team, my friend Becca also said she found it really easy to get into touch with the person in charge of her support plan if there was ever an issue. That personal touch and reachability is one of the good things about having a smaller Enabling Team.

The other good thing was that I felt like the Disabled Students Officer had a lot more involvement in changing things than at my previous university. Of course, that could be an issue of perspective, since for most of my time there I WAS the Disabled Students Officer (I took the role in November until roles changed in July). And by now everyone knows I will just involve myself in making a change to accessibility and the lives of the disabled community, whether you ask for my involvement or not!

In terms of more physical accessibility adaptations, Becca mentioned an ‘all singing all dancing’ accessible toilet by the Great Hall on the upper ground floor. This isn’t something I’ve ever used but Becca says it has an automatic door, an easy flush toilet, hoist, shower and changing bed, which all sounds pretty accessible to me! The only downside is that it’s only accessible to those who have their university cards programmed to open the automatic doors throughout the university, and not everyone’s card is programmed to do that.

The library also has a number of height adjustable desks on different floors in the main area so that those who need height adjustable desks can also study with friends. Again, these aren’t something I ever used but Becca said they were quickly repaired in the past when they broke down and were also accompanied by large signage reminding students to give priority for those desks to wheelchair users (signage which, crucially, was actually followed).

The Bad

Now onto the bad stuff, there were multiple instances of broken lifts encountered by myself and my friends, both in the university accommodation and in the university itself. Now of course people can say “well lifts break, at least there are several so you can just use another one and take a different route”. That’s all well and good but, whether it’s a case of not being able to access a room or having to take a longer route, that’s energy and time that disabled students have to factor in which non-disabled students do not, not to mention that those routes often involve going outside in the usually rainy weather. And this isn’t just the odd occurrence, these issues happen on multiple occasions. There were also ALWAYS LONG L-O-N-G queues for the lifts. I know invisible disabilities exist and there WERE 7 floors so I assume no one wants to take the stairs to the 7th floor, but still these queues always seemed excessive even accounting for all of that. Becca told me, that as a wheelchair user and fresher living on the 12th floor, she would have to leave her flat 25 minutes before lectures to avoid being late whereas her flatmates could leave 5 or 10 minutes before the lecture. I don’t think I need to spell out for you that that is a vast and unreasonable difference in times. The lifts also had signage saying to give priority to those with mobility issues, which effectively meant I could queue jump, but I always felt bad and like I was being judged for queue jumping so I rarely did.

There were also poorly designed disabled toilets, like the one pictured below with a large space between the toilet roll holder and the actual toilet (yes I know about transfer space but the toilet roll holder could have been on the wall beside the disabled toilet instead of on the opposite wall). Design issues like these often make me dread using bathrooms, which is kind of a problem when the bathroom pictured below is next to the Psychology Research labs where I spent entire days almost 5 days a week for parts of my Masters degree. There was also a specific computer room for the use of Cognitive Neuroscience MSc (my degree) students, which had a keypad so only we could enter. However, the keypad was positioned up way too high for me as a wheelchair user to reach. This is despite the room being newly opened when I joined my course and the university likely knowing a wheelchair user was going to be using that room, given that I’d made my disability clear on my application and had only applied in July for a September start. And even if you DON’T know a disabled student will be using the room immediately when it is opened, make it accessible anyway in the idea that a disabled student will use it at some point!

A bathroom. A toilet roll dispenser is visible on the left hand side and a toilet is half visible on the right hand side. There is a large space between the two which is filled by a bin and means that a wheelchair user cannot reach the toilet roll from a seated position

The Ugly

Now for the uglier side of things. I’m quite privileged (is that the right way to phrase it?) that a lot of the worst of Aston’s accessibility issues weren’t things I personally experienced but more issues I heard about through my role as Disabled Students Officer. A lot of what I heard was the same problems from different students across many schools within the university. This was the most frustrating part because it was OBVIOUS the university weren’t learning, or even attempting to learn, from all the issues I was bringing forward as Disabled Students Officer and all the mistakes they were making. These were issues like not adhering to students Individual Learner Agreements (i.e. the accommodations and changes to assessments that a specific student was entitled to on account of their disability). This left the students I spoke to worried about how, or even if, they would complete their degrees. I cannot tell you the frustration that I feel when I realise that a student who could do well in their degree may not get a degree at all simply because the university will not accommodate them correctly. Similar to that, there were issues about information regarding entitlement to alternative assessments not being passed onto the disabled student. This meant the student was stressing and struggling to revise for an exam they never actually had to take. This was obviously extra stress and unnecessary work and effort for the student, which is even more frustrating when you understand that some disabilities are energy based and may mean allocating specific energy to specific tasks at the expense of others. Therefore this lack of communication about alternative assessments could have left the student with not enough energy to do basic tasks like caring for themself.

When given the opportunity to respond, Hannah Bartlett (Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Diversity & Inclusion) provided the following statement on behalf of Aston University:

“While we are pleased to hear about the positive experiences that disabled students have had of our dedicated Enabling Team, we are always receptive to feedback about what more we can do to support our community. We encourage students to let us know, via the Enabling Team at enablingteam@aston.ac.uk, or using the diversity@aston.ac.uk email address, of any issues around support, facilities or technology. We will address individual needs on a case by case basis.

With respect to teaching and learning, students are encouraged to contact the Enabling Team, who will discuss individual requirements. Recommended adjustments are shared with the student, Programme team and the Exams and Assessment teams. The Enabling Team will serve as a regular point of contact, helping to ensure that adjustments are implemented. Where students have needs above and beyond standard adjustments, specific requirements will be assessed and implemented on an individual basis. We encourage any students who feel that they are not currently receiving the support they need to contact The Enabling Team for confidential advice.”

Beyond this statement, Hannah also stated that she is very open to continuing a conversation and ongoing dialogue about these issues.

Soooooo, in conclusion, I think there are some things that Aston has done better than my previous university in terms of accessibility. But it is by no means perfectly accessible and there is CERTAINLY much more work to do, work that I hope to help with when I (hopefully) return for my PhD.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

A Week In Lockdown: Disabled Blogger Edition

I had planned to give you a Day In The Life of my new life in my own flat up here in Birmingham. However, we’ve basically been in some form of lockdown or restrictions since I moved, so I wouldn’t be able to show you my average day, and I have no idea when that’s likely to change. So instead I’ve decided to give you a week of life in lockdown: Disabled Blogger Edition.

Monday

I set my alarm for 7:30 every morning. Once I’m up, first things first, breakfast and most importantly COFFEE. This is usually toast and 2 cups of black filter coffee in my travel mug. Yes I drink out of travel mugs in my house, there’s less chance of spilling then than if I carry an open mug in my walker. Also yes I said 2 cups, but that’s mostly  because my full French press fills 2 travel mugs so if I didn’t have 2 cups at once it would go cold, and cold coffee is a travesty. I usually watch YouTube whilst I eat and caffeinate. My favourites at the moment are Kara & Nate, Simon Wilson or, if I need my MMA fix before the weekend, Dan Hardy and the Raptors at Full Reptile. Once breakfast was eaten it was time for something I’ve labelled “house pick up” which is basically putting dirty clothes away into the washing bag and putting things back in the place they’re supposed to live as opposed to wherever I just threw them the previous day.  then I quickly updated the blog view statistics and map, since I’d hit a new country the previous day.

It was then time to head into a meeting about my potential PhD opportunity and where we were at in that process. Let’s just say it was not the news I hoped for, delays and funding issues have meant I probably wont start anytime soon so it’s more important than ever to find a job. Speaking of jobs, I usually flag all job-related emails and alerts that arrive past a certain time and then  go through the emails in in the morning and apply to those which are appropriate for me, so that’s what I did next. Specifically I wanted to finalise one application (but it turned out the role had been withdrawn before I could submit my application) and make notes for a paragraph to be included in another application.

Once the job hunt was done for the day, I moved onto creating featured header images for some upcoming blog posts (which you will either see soon or may have already seen depending on when this post is released. This creative burst was RUDELY interrupted by a fire alarm in my building. However that did mean I got to leave my building for like 10 minutes and see fire engines, which is entertainment I guess. Once we were let back in I decided to have a snack/break since I realised I hadn’t had one all day.

Mondays are also what’s known as “quiz night” because there’s Mastermind followed by Only Connect and University Challenge, all of which are shows I regularly watched with my parents when I lived at home. However this week there was, inexplicably, no Mastermind which was baffling, do they not realise the importance of quiz night? I did my washing up between shows and dried up afterwards. Then it was time to update my to do list whilst I sat down with a glass of wine before bed. I aim to get to bed before midnight but it’s not often that happens.

Tuesday

And so we move to Tuesday. After the usual coffee, breakfast and house pick up routine, It was time to continue the job search. This meant going through my email for job alerts that I had flagged yesterday and making applications or setting up careers meetings if the role required a longer application that I needed a bit more guidance with. I then quickly update the blog view statistics and map (since we hit ANOTHER new country) and took a photo for this blog post.

It was then back to the job hunt, filling in forms in relation to a job application in preparation for a Zoom interview (my first Zoom interview). I also wrote out a paragraph or section that I wanted to include in another application, in preparation for a careers meeting the next morning. Then it was time to switch focus to the blog again and edit some Instagram captions, before I settled in for a late night making notes from my recording of the previous weeks 3 hour Aston Apollo (a scheme and group of workshops I have recently joined, run my Aston University where I completed my Masters)  meeting, in advance of the next workshop the next day. Tuesday was essentially a preparation day for what was a VERY busy Wednesday.

Wednesday

As I said, Wednesday was busy. After the standard coffee, breakfast and house pick up routine, I resumed the job hunt by checking my flagged emails and making applications to the relevant roles. Then it was time for my careers meeting to discuss that lengthy paragraph or section that I wanted to input into one of the more complex applications I was making.

Once that meeting was over, I decided to order a Greggs lunch since this time was likely to be my only break all day and I wanted to well prepared and fed ready for a long afternoon of meetings, also, who can resist a Greggs?! But my lunch “break” wasn’t really a break because I decided to use that time to quickly update the blog view statistics and take another photo to accompany this post. I then had a networking event between 1 and 2. I made some good connections which could prove useful for the blog in the future, which I was particularly happy about given that this was my first time joining an event with the specific aim of networking to improve and promote the blog, There was a bit of an awkward interruption in the middle of that networking event though, as some delivery service decided to abandon (literally knocked on the door, dumped it and left) a parcel which was not meant for me at my door. From there it was straight into the Aston Apollo meeting, this was sometimes a frustrating meeting as I felt I probably was not asking the right questions, but I guess that’s the process of growth and trying to build something right?

After all my meetings were done, I redelivered the abandoned parcel to its intended recipient (someone else within my building) and made dinner. Following all of that I just sort of… stopped. I think the combination of bad news I’d gotten earlier that day, the long day of meetings, the lack of sleep and being overwhelmed by the struggle to find a job, I just sort of broke down crying and wondering whether everything would ever sort itself out and when that would be.

Thursday

Following the previous day’s little emotional wobble, It was time to pick myself up again on Thursday. Following the usual coffee, breakfast and house pick up routine, I checked my email for any job alert emails and opportunities, as well as checking various job sites and signing up for more alerts. I then took a quick moment to update the blog view statistics and take another photo for this blog post.

I then spent some time applying for jobs from the ones suggested in the alert emails I had previously flagged, as well as finalising registrations for agencies which may be able to help me find a job. I spent most of my day at a virtual careers fair, and I must say it was my first time attending something like that virtually (as it probably is for most people) but I have to say it felt like the full experience, includes stalls set up in rows in an exhibition hall, but just…virtual. I then took some time to organise my food shop a week in advance. I wouldn’t normally do it that far in advance but, as someone who’s moderate risk for COVID 19 and lives alone and thus has no one to go out for her, I kind of NEED a slot and I wanted to avoid the prospect panic buyers having taken all the delivery slots.

When all that done, my evening started by listening to Frank Turner (whom I have discussed my love for in a dedicated blog post) livestream whilst I ate dinner and washed up. I ended the evening by editing an upcoming blog post, or maybe it will have been released by the time you see this (I won’t tell you which post, no spoilers here).

Friday

And sooooooooooooooooo we hit Friday, after the usual wake up, coffee, breakfast and house pick up routine, I started my day with blogging tasks. This meant updating the views statistics and updating my brand-new landing page. I also requested some feedback on a possible publication date and promotion strategy for the blog post I’d edited the previous day. I then followed up on some work I was doing on my  Instagram earlier in the week by continuing to edit my captions to match up with the new strategy I am trying. I also took another photo for this blog post.

Then it was time to switch tack and focus on the job hunt. This, as usual, meant going through my flagged alerts and applying for relevant roles. It also meant replying to emails and making enquiries for those roles where I needed more information. I also photographed some extra documents needed for a specific job application and sent them over to the relevant person, as well as organising some documents ready for a meeting on Monday morning.

Of course, I also did the boring stuff like washing up, showering, paying my electricity bill (which is my only non-direct debit and therefore the only bill I have to REMEMBER to pay) and updating the  shopping order I had set up yesterday.

Saturday

IT’S THE WEEKEND.  So of course I woke up late. I did SET a 9:30 alarm, but I switched it off since I don’t tend to sleep very well and figured I could do with catching up. That meant that I woke up a little before midday, I then completed some surveys on the survey apps I use for extra cash, before having my coffee and “breakfast” (can you call it breakfast if it’s after midday?). I then went through the house pick up routine, which included putting away the stuff I washed up last night. I then washed up the things from breakfast and cleaned the bathroom (something I do weekly) whilst I left the washing up to dry. Once the bathroom was clean and the washing up at least drier, I finished drying up and put everything away, before cleaning the kitchen (again a weekly occurrence) once everything was clear.

Then it was time for the email alert check for new jobs I could apply for, unfortunately there were no new applications I could make this time. I then threw myself into blog promotion on social media for a little while and started hunting for Christmas gift ideas (kind of important now it’s nearing the middle of November.

Anyone who knows me knows that Saturday night is fight night with the UFC event on every weekend, and this Saturday was no different. I ordered my (now near obligatory) takeaway and  worked on another upcoming blog post whilst I waited for it to arrive. Once that had arrived and been eaten I made my fight night caffeine (yes I said caffeine, these events finish at around 3am at the earliest) and sat down to enjoy the fights, but not before taking a picture for my Instagram and this blog post. I also made notes on the content for this blog post in between fights.

Sunday

Post Fights Sunday  is always a little slower due to the late finish of the fights. I obviously started my day with breakfast and coffee and house pick up. Then I took the bins out and hoovered and polished (something I do fortnightly rather than weekly like the other cleaning, mostly because hoovering is a pain in the butt). Then it was back to job hunting and the cycle of checking my emails for job alerts and making applications for relevant roles. Then I moved onto blog tasks, which on this day included updating the views statistics and reading a post which was recommended by a fellow blogger. I also managed to finish writing that blog post I started whilst waiting for my fight night takeaway to arrive the previous night (a little advanced warning: that post turned into quite the essay!).

Once that post was finished it was time for dinner, doing the washing up and grabbing a shower before I settled down with a couple episodes of Mindhunter on Netflix and fell asleep on the couch (oops!).

If this seemed a little boring and repetitive that’s because it is, and it’s just as boring living it as it is to read. But for those of us who are more vulnerable, this isolation is often LITERALLY a matter of life and death. So for anyone who’s flouting the rules under the whole “it won’t affect me it only affects the disabled and elderly” PLEASE PLEASE wear your masks, isolate, social distance and do whatever is necessary wherever you live. I have an interesting, event filled life that I’d like to get back to at some point, just the same as anyone else.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Birmingham New Street to Darlington and back with Cross Country Trains

Photo Credit: Nikki Barker

Another train travel blog, this time Birmingham New Street to Darlington and back with Cross Country Trains for a visit with my friend and editor extraordinaire Nikki!

Outbound

Ticket Buying & Getting On at Birmingham New Street

I bought my tickets on SplitYourTicket.com which as the name suggests is a train ticket splitting website where you can split a long train journey into multiple shorter journey tickets. This meant that while I only took 2 trains (one each way) I had 8 tickets in total. However, it was way cheaper than a single direct ticket, so definitely worth a look if you want to save money on travel. I then booked my assistance via the Cross Country travel assistance phone line. On the day, I arrived at the Birmingham New Street assistance lounge 20 minutes before departure and was taken from there to the train by a staff member.

On Train

I had the usual issues that I have on Cross Country trains: A steep ramp onto the train, a tight corridor to navigate and a small wheelchair space even for my standard electric wheelchair. It must be said though, the accessible toilet had many more transfer bars (i.e. bars I could use to help me transfer between my chair and the toilet) than West Midlands Railway, so that’s a slightly odd sounding plus point.

Disembarking & Leaving at Darlington

On arrival at Darlington, the assistance and ramp to get me off the train was already there when we arrived (we’ll forget that I mentioned needing a ramp and assistance off at Darlington to every single staff member that would listen several times throughout the 3 hour trip). A quick little praise point for the accessible toilet at Darlington station; it’s a radar key toilet which is self-opening (put the key in and wave your hand in front of a sensor and it’ll open without having to touch a handle). The inside was huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge, I’d dare say there was more than enough space in there for equipment to make a Changing Places toilet and still have a separate accessible toilet. I’m very aware I’ve spent half this blog post talking about toilets but hopefully that shows how important these kinds of things are to accessibility!

Return

Getting On at Darlington

When it came time to leave Darlington, Nikki was allowed  through the barrier to wait with me while I waited to get on my train. We  were directed to a waiting room directly next to  the platform my train would arrive on. About 5 or so minutes before the train arrived I was collected from that waiting room by a staff member and put on the train using a much larger, wider, more suitable ramp than the one I was used to at Birmingham New Street.

On Train

The problems on the train were the Cross Country usual. Although the ramp wasn’t so steep this time, I still had to navigate a tight corridor and small wheelchair space. There was also luggage in the wheelchair space which was thankfully cleared by staff before I got on. It was also quite a packed train so I thought it may be difficult to get out of the carriage and off at my stop.

Disembarking & Leaving at Birmingham New Street

Thankfully, my fears about problems getting off the train were unfounded and I was able to disembark the train at Birmingham New Street and leave the station with no issues.

I hope this gives insight into what it’s like to travel between these 2 stations as a wheelchair user

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Cage Warriors 111 (Birmingham New Street to London Euston and back with West Midlands Trains and Virgin Trains, and an Indigo At The O2 Access Review)

An absolutely mammoth train travel/access review post for you today. Birmingham New Street to London Euston and back with West Midlands Trains and Virgin Trains (which now no longer exists) and an access review of Indigo At The O2 for Cage Warriors 111.

(Disclaimer: I’m aware “accessibility” means different things to different people, as I said before, these are MY views on my experience of accessibility at this venue as an electric wheelchair user, I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)

Train & Tube Outbound

Tickets

Tickets were booked through Trainline as usual and I booked the train assistance through Cross Country Trains. I did it this way, despite Cross Country not being one of the companies I travelled with, because both West Midlands Trains and Virgin trains insisted on having my wheelchair dimensions before booking the ramp and this was not something I’d ever previously been asked for before on any journey with any train company so it wasn’t information I was willing to suddenly have to give.

Birmingham New Street to Euston to Uxbridge

I arrived at the New Street assistance reception 20 minutes before the train and was taken to the platform and put on the train with a ramp by assistance. There are no wheelchair space reservations allowed on West Midlands Trains (operator for this leg of the journey) but luckily there was a free wheelchair space for me to occupy. The catch was that it was next to the toilet, which is interesting when the toilet door slams every 10 minutes and you have a ridiculous startle reflex like mine. When it came time to get off the train, I had a short wait for assistance before the ramp turned up, then it was time to head for the Tube. Specifically, I headed for Euston Square. I made my way through a gate line and to the platform to find there were no staff anywhere to call ahead to Uxbridge and confirm I could disembark. The only staff member I could see was stood at a gate line which was up some stairs, which meant I had to sit at the bottom of said stairs and shout for assistance (it’s a good job I’ve learned to yell loudly over the years). However, the staff member did inform that the wheelchair access at Euston Square was only in one direction so in order to make the return journey for my train home I’d have to go on to Kings Cross on the Metropolitan line and then come back on myself, oh if only the return journey was that simple!

Indigo At The O2 Access Review

Tickets

Initially, I phoned Indigo At The O2 for a wheelchair space ticket and carer ticket for Cage Warriors 111 and was told there were none left, with no mention of possible single wheelchair space tickets being available. Of course, as is standard in 2020, I headed to Twitter to express my disappointment at not being able to secure a ticket. I was particularly disappointed as there was a specific fighter (shout out Paddy Pimblett) who I was desperate to see fight live (and still am). That tweet kind of exploded and gained reaction in a way I never expected with many people trying to help me out (shout out, Paddy, Molly McCann and MMA Twitter for helping me secure an answer and a ticket from the venue). Through this reaction, I was put in touch with the venue who were able to tell me there was a single wheelchair space (no carer) ticket left for what I believe was the venue’s only access platform. Forget Cinderella shall go to the ball, Em shall go to the fights!

Travel

Travel was pretty similar to all my other trips to the O2 complex. I took the Metropolitan line from Uxbridge to Wembley Park with no ramp used, although they do have ramps. I could have used Finchley Road but they refused as it would be “easier” to use Wembley Park (easier on them I assume). I then went from Wembley Park to North Greenwich on the Jubilee line and was met off the tube and guided out of North Greenwich station. On the way back into the station post event, I was bumped and barged repeatedly whilst queuing to enter the station and on my way through the station. I then HAD to get on the busiest tube out of North Greenwich to make sure I didn’t miss the last Metropolitan line train out of Wembley Park towards Uxbridge. This meant I had to sit in the middle of the train not in the designated wheelchair space (because people were stood there). THAT meant I had to just lock my arm straight to hold onto the central pole and steady my chair in case it slid around. My arm was also repeatedly leant on to the point I thought my joints might dislocate. Thankfully I made the last Metropolitan line from Wembley to Uxbridge and then had a short wait for the ramp at Uxbridge.

Experience & Seating

On arrival at the venue, I went through a ticket check and was then led to my seat on the platform. In terms of view, I had probably one of the best views of fighter walkout that I’ve ever had, with fighter walkout being immediately to my left, I was, however, a little further back than I have been for other shows in terms of view into the cage. There was also only the one small platform which meant it was quite packed and full. I did hear an assistance staff member say the platform was “not meant for so many big wheelchairs” which baffled me completely because wheelchair dimensions had never been mentioned when I bought my ticket an, let’s face it, if access is only accessible for those with certain sizes or types of mobility aids, it’s not REALLY access. The good thing about this platform was it was right next to an accessible toilet which meant toilet trips didn’t involve trekking across the venue.

Tube, Bus & Train Return

For the beginning of my return journey back to Birmingham, there were maintenance works on Metropolitan line between Wembley Park and Aldgate. That meant that my journey back to Euston was as follows: Metropolitan line from Uxbridge to Wembley Park, then the Jubilee line from there to Bond Street, THEN the Central from there to Tottenham Court Road and finally a bus to Euston station. I made myself known at the Euston assistance desk and was then told to make my own way to the platform. I waited there and was then met by assistance staff who used a ramp to put me on the train. As per my usual gripes with Virgin Trains, there was a tight corridor and door to navigate to make it to my seat, but there was more space in the wheelchair space than I expected given how insistent they were about knowing my wheelchair dimensions prior to my attempted assistance booking. Once I arrived back at New Street, I was taken off the train pretty immediately and was able to wheel away out of the station and back to university accommodation.

I hope this shows my adventures as a wheelchair user for a weekend in the capital for the fights. Thanks as always to Cage Warriors for putting on a brilliant show and I can’t wait to be back in March for CW113

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Birmingham New Street to Southampton Central

ANOTHER train travel blog! This time Birmingham New Street to Southampton Central and back with Cross Country Trains for an interview.

Outbound

Ticket Buying & Getting On at Birmingham New Street

Tickets were booked through Trainline as usual and the assistance was booked over the phone with Cross Country Trains assistance team. I then arrived at the New Street mobility assistance desk 20 minutes before train departure to be taken to the platform by a staff member.

On Train

There were the usual onboard issues on the Cross Country train: small, tight doors and corridor, a steep ramp onto the train and a small wheelchair space even for my standard sized chair.

Disembarking & Leaving at Southampton Central

On arrival at Southampton, assistance was prompt and it was a case of a lift off the platform, a walkway and then a lift back down to ground level to get to the exit/entrance.

Return

Getting On at Southampton Central

The return journey is where it gets Interesting, there was initially a delay with the train arriving into the station. There was then also a delay in assisting me to the train as all staff members were dealing with some kind of passenger incident.

On Train

There were the same issues as usual on the Cross Country train with small tight doors and a small corridor and wheelchair space, along with a particularly steep ramp. Flooding the whole way home also severely delayed the train. That severe delay did allow me to start discussing MMA with a fellow passenger (because apparently MMA gets into every part of my life now!) so I guess every cloud has a silver lining. The severe delay did mean I was worried about whether the assistance would turn up on arrival at New Street.

Disembarking & Leaving at Birmingham New Street

Sure enough, my worries were at least partially correct as there was a delay with assistance on arrival at New Street. Once I’d made my way through the crowd of people surrounding the train (who obviously all wanted to get on a train ASAP given the severe delays) I was able to leave the statin and make my way back to university accommodation.

I hope this post provides an insight into travel between these 2 stations as a wheelchair user.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Birmingham New Street to Chippenham (27/10/2019)

Another train travel blog, this time Birmingham New Street to Chippenham and back (via Swindon) with Cross Country and Great Western Railway for a day trip home.

Outbound

Ticket Buying & Getting On at Birmingham New Street

Tickets were booked on Trainline as per usual. All assistance was booked assistance over the phone with Cross Country and I arrived at the New Street assistance reception 20 minutes before the train and was taken to the platform by a staff member.

On Train

As usual on Cross Country trains, the train doors and corridor were tight even for my standard sized chair. The ramp was overly steep and the wheelchair space was really small.

Getting On at Swindon

That train took me to Swindon, on these journeys I’d expect to switch trains at Bristol Temple Meads but rail works led to the train being rerouted via Swindon instead. I can’t fault the accessibility and service at Swindon, particularly as those trains don’t pass through Swindon often. I then switched trains for a Great Western Railway train to Chippenham.

On Train

The next leg of the journey was on Great Western Railway, which meant automatic first class train travel and THAT meant free coffee and plenty of space in the wheelchair space. I’ll call that a win win!

Disembarking & Leaving at Chippenham

On arrival at Chippenham, train staff (as opposed to station staff) disembarked me and I was able to wheel out of the station and home.

Return

Getting On at Chippenham

For the return journey I made myself known at Chippenham station 20 mins before train departure. I then made my own way over to platform using the lift and was put the train on with the ramp.

On Train

As this train was Great Western Railway , that again meant first class travel and lots of space on the wheelchair space. However, I didn’t have coffee this time as it was late.

Getting On at Swindon

When I got off my Great Western Railway train I was told that the train I’d booked assistance on to Birmingham was cancelled. This meant deciding whether to get the next train, which could get me to Birmingham but would involve an extra change at Didcot Parkway, or wait for the next direct train. In the end I decided I’d wait for the next direct train as I didn’t want to add the stress of an extra change in a new station into the mix. It was just my luck that the next direct train was also delayed by 20 minutes! I also learned that there’s no ramp at Swindon station for that particular train type, so I had to wait until a member of train staff was found to get the ramp from inside the train to get me on the train

On Train

Onboard there were the same issue as usual , tight doors and corridors, a steep ramp and a small wheelchair space. There was also luggage in the wheelchair space when I boarded but this was soon cleared when I asked who the luggage belonged to and declared that it would need moving, As I was not on my booked train I was also wary about assistance issues with regard to getting off the train.

Disembarking & Leaving at Birmingham New Street

My wariness about assistance issues was well founded as there was a bit of a delay in assistance arriving to get me off the train. Once I’d disembarked I was able to leave the station and wheel back to university accommodation.

I hope that this post shows what a train trip home from university in a day looks like for me as a wheelchair user.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Birmingham Symphony Hall Access Review

Interior of Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Image is taken from the back of the Stalls seating area, with balconies on either side. There are many rows of brown seats between the viewer and the stage, with about 30 people already seated. A curtain obscures the stage other than some purple and blue lights that can be seen on the stage floor.
Image Description: Interior of Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Image is taken from the back of the Stalls seating area, with balconies on either side. There are many rows of brown seats between the viewer and the stage, with about 30 people already seated. A curtain obscures the stage other than some purple and blue lights that can be seen on the stage floor. (Credit Lizzie Iles for description)

Another access review! This time Symphony Hall in Birmingham for Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls

(Disclaimer: I’m aware “accessibility” means different things to different people, as I said before, these are MY views on my experience of accessibility at this venue as an electric wheelchair user, I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)

Ticket Buying

I bought my ticket through an accessible booking line. One issue is that, of course, these ticket lines are only open at certain times, which delayed my ticket buying from when I found I could go until the next morning. It doesn’t sound like that much of an issue since I’m a student but can prove a big problem if you have a job and can’t make calls during certain hours. I was also told when I bought the ticket that I’d have a restricted view if people stood, but bought it anyway. It seems from speaking to a fellow attendee and wheelchair user that the venue informs wheelchair users of possible restricted view regardless of their seat. It may be that the access seating at the side of the venue (basically in a box rather than at the back of stalls) is slightly higher up and as such provides a better view. It’s important to note that this is my experience of buying a single ticket without a carer as, as far as I can gather from the website, there is a form that needs filling in prior to ticket purchase for a free carer/assistant/companion ticket. The wheelchair user that I spoke to did acquire a companion ticket and assures me that form is quite simple to fill in and could possibly even be done over the phone. Once the form is filled in, the companion ticket is automatically added to your booking.

Travel

Travel for this gig was quite simple as it was only a 25-minute walk from my accommodation at Aston University to Symphony Hall.

Experience & Seating

Once I entered the building I headed down the ramp into the main foyer section. The box office was on one side and this is where I headed to collect my ticket as it was a last minute ticket. I then headed across the other side of the foyer for the theatre entrance. I had to go through a security pat down alongside bag check since I cannot go through a metal detector/scanner since, well, wheelchairs are metal. However, depending on when you arrive, this security set up outside the theatre can cause a bit of an issue as a long security queue goes all the way down the ramp, which blocks wheelchair users (like the fellow attendee I spoke to) from joining the back of the queue as instructed. This leads to staff panicking about what to do and as a result fast tracking wheelchair users through the queue and security checks. I was then led through a set of double doors to my seat which was pretty much in the back row of the stalls and looked as though a seat had simple been removed from the standard row of seating to make a wheelchair space, simples! The merch stall was also directly outside that set of doors (which meant Em bought a new band tee because how could I not with such temptation?!). As expected, my view was obstructed when people stood for the last 3 songs, but when Frank begins that song trio with “I won’t sit down” (Photosynthesis I will forever love you) I kind of expected people to stand. Besides which, I knew already that a restricted view was like for at least part of the show and kinda expected it from that song, so I made the best of the situation and my own little dance party while no one could see me!

Overall, accessibility at Symphony Hall is good but I think there are things that could be improved, particularly around the possibility of a restricted view. Thanks to Frank and The Sleeping Souls for a great show as always and a quick extra shout out to the Solo Armada for making sure it didn’t feel like I was going to the show alone even though I only bought one ticket.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Asylum Access Review (for Total Uprawr Rock Night)

Time for another access review. This time of Asylum in Birmingham, specifically for Uprawr Rock Night!

(Disclaimer: I’m aware “accessibility” means different things to different people, as I said before, these are MY views on my experience of accessibility at this venue as an electric wheelchair user, I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)

Tickets

Ticket buying is an easy enough situation as you just buy a ticket on the door, roll in and collect a stamp.

Travel

Travel there is also fairly simple as it’s a 15 minute walk from my room at Aston University. The only vaguely tricky bit is when you reach the road Asylum is on you have to come off the drop kerb, cross the road to the side of Asylum and then go further up in the road (not on the path) and come back on yourself round inside the barriers, but that’s only tricky as it involves driving in the road.

Experience

The experience inside is also very accessible. There is a ramp from the main entrance and bar to the dance floor which can be tricky to navigate if not approached straight on so I would be careful but it’s definitely a very usable ramp. Once on the dancefloor there was plenty of space and a general nice atmosphere which negated the claustrophobia that I find can sometimes be an issue at club nights (particularly when you’re a wheelchair user constantly at bum height and surrounded by those taller than you). Maybe the atmosphere is just a difference between a rock night and a standard club night? I’m not sure.

While there is an accessible toilet, it is not a radar key toilet as the key is kept behind the bar or with security staff. I’d always recommend making toilets radar key over staff held key as it allows for independence in using the bathroom and then going about your night rather than having to hang around waiting for a key, but I’m also aware that not everyone who uses an accessible toilet will have a radar key. The other point to note is that the accessible toilet is situated with all other toilets so queues for the standard toilets can cover the accessible toilet door. Keep that in mind if you want to avoid hitting people with toilet doors!

I hope this review is useful and helps my fellow wheelchair using rockers enjoy an accessible club night!

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)

Mama Roux’s Access Review (Not Safe For Work Rock Night)

Credit: Shann Wright

Another access review, this time for Mama Roux’s in Birmingham, specifically for Not Safe For Work Rock Night

(Disclaimer: I’m aware “accessibility” means different things to different people, as I said before, these are MY views on my experience of accessibility at this venue as an electric wheelchair user, I obviously can’t speak for others experiences but feel free to add your experiences in the comments!)

Tickets

Tickets buying was a very simple situation as they were simply available to be bought on the door.

Travel

Getting there was…an experience to say the least. The actual distance isn’t the problem as it’s only about a 20 minute walk. However, Digbeth (the area) is sort of notorious for its lack of drop kerbs and for Uber drivers parking on said drop kerbs so I’d get ready to fight for your drop kerb access if I was you. I know I tapped on the windows of several Ubers that night to get them to move off the drop kerb.

Experience

Once I was in the door, it was a mixed experience, although overall a good one. I had to use my chair riser to raise up to bar level to pay since the card readers did not seem to be detachable. However, I did manage to make my way through the dancefloor to the barrier, which is not something that happen often but is the kind of situation I LOVE, so I’m not ashamed to admit that made my night. The accessible toilet wasn’t actually in Mama Roux’s but in another section/building on Lower Trinity Street. They’re all connected but that toilet also wasn’t radar key so I had to wait and get the key from staff which made the simple process of going to the bathroom a long process and quite the mission. I would suggest making the toilet a radar key toilet as I usually do but I think that may be quite pointless because there’s the factor of distance between Mama Roux’s and the actual accessible toilet, so I’m not sure make the toilet a radar key toilet would streamline the process any more.

I hope this post is useful and helps someone enjoy a great night out at Not Safe For Work.

Stay Invincible!

Em (Invincible Woman On Wheels)